China is everywhere in global politics. China is “ubiquitous,” a retired Senior Colonel Zhou Bo of China’s PLA told in a conversation with TIME magazine. On March 10, in an agreement brokered by Beijing, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to normalize relations, after seven years of bitter rivalry in a deal that sidelined the U.S. Earlier, on February 24, China put forward a 12-point proposal for peace in Ukraine. On March 20, President Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow, where he discussed the situation in Ukraine with Vladimir Putin.
Senior Colonel Zhou Bo spoke about what the “watershed moment” means for China and the world. He said:
– For Beijing, the war in Ukraine is a trigger for new security arrangements in Europe that will have to be made before peace returns. China’s proposal on peace in Ukraine is a big step forward. The success on mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia will encourage China to make more proposals, but the challenge is always to find road maps. With reform and opening up, as Deng Xiaoping said, China was trying to get across the river by feeling the stones on the riverbed, but now China is entering the ocean.
– We are talking about Global China. When Boris Johnson talked about Global Britain, it was probably more rhetorical. But Global China is definitely real. China is ubiquitous. China’s influence is everywhere. The PLA’s operations overseas are carefully chosen to be humanitarian in nature, but as your strength grows, people have higher expectations for you. We are talking about the world. This is the ocean we are wading in.
– China does have some sympathy with Russia on how this war came about because of NATO expansion, despite NATO’s promises on no expansion from time to time. China understands why Russia is resentful. When China stresses sovereignty must be respected, it also tries to look at it from a more comprehensive perspective. Countries like South Africa, Brazil, or India are taking similar positions like China on this.
– There is no doubt that China wants to see a ceasefire because China’s interests were damaged in Europe. Because of China’s neutrality, China’s relations with Western capitals have soured. This is ludicrous because China has nothing to do with this war.
– It does not make any sense that China, which has not provided weapons to Russia since the outbreak of the war, would change its mind, especially at a time when they have actually announced a peace plan. Why would Antony Blinken say that? By saying it, Blinken was actually giving a pre-emptive warning because China providing military support would be the worst fear of the U.S. But it’s totally impossible.
– The American presence in the region is not as strong as before, but the U.S. will not go away. But on this issue China is doing what the U.S. cannot do. Why? Because the U.S. doesn’t even have diplomatic relations with Iran. It cannot become a mediator between the two sides. The U.S. has allies in the region. It has to adopt double standards. Therefore, China can do a better job, but this is not an attempt to replace the U.S.
– If there were a war between Saudi and Iran, this would damage China’s interests, both economic interests and energy security, profoundly. So China needs to prevent a war and that may explain its new role.
– China depends on energy imports from the Middle East, which make up 40-50% of Chinese energy imports. We are trying to diversify, but that is the situation for now… At the same time, China’s activity in the Middle East now comprises almost everything, from building infrastructure to launching satellites to energy imports, therefore its stake on peace and stability in the Middle East has become higher.
– This is the first time China becomes directly involved in regional security. The biggest question of the 21st century is, if China’s rise is inevitable, will China create a better world? My answer is, at least it can make a safer world. At least it will make much less harm than the U.S.